Shenanigans in Ukraine’s parliament to push through politicized Human Rights Ombudsman
Human rights activists are asking President Petro Poroshenko to veto a law passed with deliberate deception and jeopardizing the independence and lack of political engagement of the country’s next Human Rights Ombudsman. The Ombudsman or Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, should act in defence of all citizens’ rights, regardless of their political views, and must not be chosen according to political quotas. This is not the only failing in the Law on the Constitutional Court which also buries any chance of a fair competition for judges of this vital court.
After a first attempt, back in April, to slip in a political candidate for the post failed, those wanting their political candidate to win presumably decided that the problem lay in the fact that the vote for the Ombudsman, is secret, meaning that the faction heads cannot see how members of their faction voted.
Amendments were therefore added to the draft Law on the Constitutional Court which proposed an open vote in accordance with the parliamentary ‘Rada’ system.
The second reading for this bill took place on July 13 with one MP, Olha Chervakova proposing an amendment which would retain the secret vote for Ombudsman. This was supported by a majority (227) of MPs.
The Verkhovna Rada Office and certain MPs, however, decided to make use of the fact that in presenting her amendment, Chervakova got its number wrong. Although, as the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union points out, MPs voted on the basis of the stated content of the amendment, and not its number, the Verkhovna Rada Office has chosen to ignore the majority support for the amendment.
It can thus be said that the norm introducing an open vote for Ombudsman now in the adopted Law on the Constitutional Court was obtained by rigging the results of a vote in the Verkhovna Rada. The UHHRU appeal calls this not merely unacceptable, but a criminal offence. The authors also point out that an open vote breaches the UN’s Paris Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions and is aimed at increasing the dependence of the Ombudsman on political demands. It destroys the constitutional status guaranteeing the independence of the Ombudsman and the legitimacy of the candidate thus elected.
Despite repeated protests from the public and appeals to the Speaker Andriy Parubiy from individual MPs, nothing has been done to rectify the situation, Parubiy has now signed this effectively falsified draft bill and sent it to the President.
Valeria Lutkovska’s term as Ombudsman ended on April 28, at which point parliamentarians had 20 days to elect a new Human Rights Ombudsman or re-elect Lutkovska. The requirements for this position are set out in Ukraine’s Law on the Human Rights Ombudsman which makes it quite clear that the holder of this post should be independent and represent all parts of Ukrainian society.
By May, it had become clear that MPs were choosing candidates on party lines, with two of the three candidates proposed being current MPs. Serhiy Alexeev is a member of the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko and Ludmila Denisova – an MP from the People’s Front. Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party, suggested a third candidate - Andriy Mamalyty.
While the Law clearly prohibits the Ombudsman from being an MP or holding executive office at the same time, a current legislator can be elected to the post, as long as they then resign.
There was significant protest from civic organizations, with appeals also from 40 Ombudsmen abroad, Freedom House and others.
All stressed the need for the person to be independent and the inadmissibility of parliamentarians treating this post as part of their political quota within the coalition.
It had looked as though all calls were going to be ignored with Denisova widely expected to ‘be elected’ on June 6.
That vote did not take place, officially because the National Agency on Preventing Corruption had not finished its special checks. The unofficial explanation is that Denisova did not have enough votes to win.
It is, unfortunately, likely that this insistence on an open vote and willingness to resort to falsification of MPs choice are aimed at ensuring that a candidate, chosen on party lines, gets elected this time.
The authors of the appeal call on President Poroshenko to veto the law. It remains to be seen whether he will heed the call or choose to pass into law a bill that clearly jeopardizes the independence of the Ombudsman’s post and is also, quite simply, an undemocratic fiddle.